Monday, February 27, 2012

February 27th, 2012

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

The small airborne ‘machine’ micro-buzzed into position, carefully avoiding detection. Stealthy, apart from that tiny buzz, that could only be detected once it was too late. Sensing the target ahead, it swiftly and deftly landed and delivered its deadly load, at the same time stealing, perhaps even spilling, human blood. Then, with the speed of a viper the child’s hand knocked the flying killer to the ground, destroyed, but sadly too late – its parasitic passenger had already been delivered to the child’s bloodstream.

We are all too familiar with the deadly acts of the mosquitoes – natures killer squadrons of malaria-transmitting sub-gram flying ‘machines’ – each one discrete, annoying and devastating. Another of nature’s light-weight flying insect miracles is very different. The butterfly, resplendent in colours that inspire awe and bring jaw-dropping silence to the crowd when they majestically land on a flower, with greater precision than any surgeons hands. Then there is the honey-bee, capable of flying, navigating and sharing knowledge of a food source, pollinating flowers for prosperity and making honey, propolis and more for the benefit of themselves and the careful apiculturist. Of course, the bee also carries its own defence mechanisms too!

Natures flying machines, like the flying machines of mankind, have a host of applications – some seemingly purely negative (although the mosquito eating bats seem to rather like the delicacy of human-blood-filled-flying-snacks!).

All too often focus is made on fast aircraft, large aircraft, fighting aircraft – and, as with the insects of nature’s world, the lighter end gets overlooked, despite their numbers and amazing range of abilities and economic potential (consider the silk moth, bees, bio-control insects, etc.).

It is all too easy to get excited about the massive aircraft, without reflection on the high maintenance-hours to flight-hours ratio. The Globemaster has over twenty maintenance hours per flying hour! Perhaps the Airbus A380 is magnificent, but it is not something you want to feed or house! Millions, nay billions of dollars have been spent and are being spent on special parking bays, taxiways, etc. to host the new giant of the skies – not to mention the fuel bill!

Interestingly, the excitement of the masses tends to focus on the big and the powerful, whilst the small and determined are perhaps able to achieve something equally amazing. Look at your house – you have doors, screens, windows with bars, and still the ants find their way to their target inside your kitchen!

In a similar way, light aircraft are about to reach into the places in Ghana that are not readily accessible by road or, indeed, by larger aircraft, and they will be working for the benefit of the people – finding their way to the target population, those in need of encouragement, training, health education, and with it community health empowerment.
We all take so many things for granted – like the beauty of the butterfly, we see it, smile and walk on, not thinking about the amazing struggle that creature has had to get to its multi-splendorous appearance and associated performance. We take for granted our access to clean water, to power, our apparent ‘instinct’ for cleanliness. Washing of hands before eating – sounds simple, seems instinctive – but it needs taught. We accept that a good bath with clean water and soap is our ‘right’ – perhaps our ‘dutiful-right’, but we fail to remember that it is a privilege to have access to it and to enjoy it. When did you last consider that the water you are bathing in could damage your health? Did you wonder if there were cercaria in the water (the little critters that penetrate your skin and cause Schistosomiasis)? Of course you didn’t! You know that you can only get that if you bathe or swim in an infected lake or river… BUT do you wonder about how those who live with the only source of water for many tens of kilometres around them infected?

With our blessings of development we seem to not only wash clean our bodies, but our consciousness about, and our consciences regarding the many people who do not have the knowledge, and even if they do, may not have the awareness of how to find solutions to living with the dangers in a manner that prevents them from being infected.

Of course, if a danger affects those in the cities and ‘developed’ portions of the world, there is a massive campaign – such as we see for HIV/AIDS. Yet, that same knowledge simply does not reach those who are remote, living in the lifestyle that we all came from at some point in our ancestry.

I believe that we all have a duty to ensure that those who have not been given the opportunity to understand the basics of health education should be given that opportunity as soon as possible, and that is the mantra of practically every government in the world. However, when accessibility is a challenge, it is all too easy to ignore the existence of the problem – unless you are ant-like in your thinking!

With creative thinking, the ant got past the barriers you put to your kitchen – slipping past the windows, bars, nets, blocks, etc. and finally discovered the knowledge of the sugar in the highest, most inaccessible cupboard! We can use that same creative thinking to send health education messages to those who are remote through lack of roads and other infrastructure, and, as I see it, the only practical solution to that is by air.

Soon there will be a trial campaign to reach many such isolated communities around the Volta Basin, it will be at a lower cost than going by road, and won’t be hampered by the rainy seasons’ muddiness, nor by the great distances. This solution is one of Ghanaian innovation and implementation – and I believe it is one that will accelerate the effort for behavioural change for health in the areas it reaches.

The moment one mentions an aircraft, people get excited about cost – perceived high cost. But I will leave you with this thought. In order to reach just forty of the isolated communities in the areas concerned, using traditional methods such a a 4x4 or a motorcycle, would take at least one week, probably more. It would consume considerable person-hours, fuel and probably result in repairs or simple failure to reach a community due to natural barriers. By air, the same result can be achieved in less than three hours. Now you ask me ‘How does this method work?’, and ‘How can it really be something that will bring about change?’ Well, I will share that with you next week, and will also be inviting all Fresh Air Matters readers to participate in a competition that will give the winner a chance to see first-hand what is happening…

In the meantime, remember to think about cercaria in many peoples bathing water when you next take your bath!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

1 comment:

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